Kings are generally thought to be beautiful, God-like humans
from a certain genealogy. They are placed at the throne due to
whom they were born to and/or who they marry. Richard of
Glouster is born of the royal family but, he does not possess the
qualities of a King to be legitimate according to Shakespeare’s
Richard and his brothers are all entitled to the throne if
their father dies. By killing his two brothers, Richard is the
only person in his immediate family entitled to the throne. Why
must he kill his brothers so that he may gain the crown?
Shakespeare depicts Edward and Clarence as far more worthy of the
crown. They possess traits of a King which Richard does not
Richard states in his opening speech ‘Unless to spy my
shadow in the sun/And descant on mine own deformity./ And
therefore since I cannot prove a lover’; (1.1.26-28). In this
speech Richard admits he cannot be a lover because he is ugly
with deformity. This imperfectness does not fit the perfect
qualities known to Kings. His brothers, on the other hand, do
possess the ability to love and both were married or betrothed.
Edward even had two women to love! Some may say that Edward was
illegitimate because of his other lover, but, is it better and
more respectable to not be able to have love or to have several
loves? A King should be able to love to rule a Kingdom otherwise
he may be a ruthless killer as Shakespeare demonstrates in the
Gaining the hand of a woman not only makes a King look
worthy to love but also is used for political gains. Richard
himself demonstrates this as he ruthlessly goes after Ann after
killing her lover and her Father. Through manipulation but not
by his heart he gains Ann’s hand. So, he does gain a woman for
political strength but he still does not fulfill the trait of a
King as a loving individual.
Why does Richard believe he should be King? He seems to
possess only one quality which his brothers have: to be born of
Royalty. One other quality exists in his favor, but is
questionable. Richard is a good leader. Yet, he leads through
fear. For example, in Act 5 Richard demands that Stanley bring
him an army or he will decapitate his son. He also leads through
manipulation. For example he manipulates his brother Clarence
into believing he was going to help free him from prison (though
he was responsible for putting him there in the first place). He
tells Clarence as he’s escorted to the tower ‘Well, your
imprisonment shall not be long./I will deliver you or lie for
you./Meantime, have patience.’;(1.1.115-117) Shakespeare’s
audience already knows this is a complete lie. So, although
Richard is a good leader in making people do and act the way he
wants them to, he does it in an unkindly way. He is really a
traitor by lying to his own brother for his own gains.
Shakespeare is commenting on yet another trait that Kings should
have which Richard lacks. A King should be looking out for the
good of the Kingdom, it’s people and most definitely his own kin.
Richard only looks out for himself and his own personal gains.
Some may say that to be a King you must be able to
manipulate. After all, manipulation is a very important tool for
powerful Kings to help his kingdom gain land and money.
Shakespeare may be analyzing this trait of Kings. Shakespeare
portrays Richard as a evil minded puppet master. Richard even
admits this in his opening speech when he says ‘I am determined
to prove a villain/ And hate the idle pleasures of these days.’;
(1.1.30-31). Shakespeare implies that manipulation tends to be a
trait of Kings, and some even gain the throne by it. Although,
the crowd doesn’t cheer for Richard when it is announced he is
the new king making a statement that he really shouldn’t be the
King. When Buckingham returns to Richard after announcing to the
people that he has been crowned he says to Richard ‘Now, by the
holy mother of our Lord,/ The citizens are mum, say not a word.’;
(3.7.2-3) The silent statement of the citizens is clear, Richard
is not to be their King. Also, Richard’s path to Kingdom costs
him his life. By having other nobles kill Richard and regain the
throne Shakespeare depicts again how Richard is unfit for the
Faith in God is another known Kingly quality. Kings were
often seen with Bishops and priests. Richard only uses men of
the cloth for political gain. So, in a sense, Richard is making
himself an illegitimate Christian. He is only pretending to have
faith. He is claiming to be above God’s law by only using
religion for political gain. This is sinful and therefore makes
him a sinner or illegitimate Christian.
Isolation is another way Shakespeare depicts Richard as
illegitimate. A King is a very prominent figure and just a
stroll down the street for a King is an elaborate ceremony. The
King is always surrounded by loyal subjects and guards. Yet
Richard isolates himself physically and psychologically from
everyone (including himself). At the beginning of the play
Richard is speaking alone. This emphasizes his isolation as he
appears alone to the audience. At the very end of the play
Richard is again alone as he asks to be alone before the final
battle. He is alone once again when the ghosts appear in his
dream. Another way he is physically alone is through his
deformity. To the audience, Richard’s deformity is an outward
indication of the disharmony from Nature he possesses. His
deformity makes him an outcast of society. An outcast of society
is surely not fit to be a King.
Richard isolates himself psychologically by not showing the
evil that is really inside his mind. In his opening speech
Richard states ‘Dive, thoughts, down to my soul’; when he sees
his brother approaching. He is hiding from his brother what he
is really thinking and feeling. Another psychological isolation
is conveyed by his lack of remorse of the murders he’s had
committed. This shows that he is a masochistic man who only
wants one thing, power. Richard’s psychological isolation may
not directly indicate his unfitness to be King, but it surely
questions his sanity. Questionable sanity is what makes him
unfit to be a King according to Shakespeare.
Finally, Richard isolates himself from his brothers. By
betraying them is the first step in his isolation. Brothers are
supposed to be loyal to each other. By betraying them he cut off
that loyalty. Also, by physically killing his brothers Richard
has cut himself off of close family. He sees this as a means
toward his gain but in reality he needs their brotherhood to
remain in power.
An indication of Richard’s possible admittance to the
illegitimacy of the crown may be when he looses his horse in
battle and says twice in the closing battle ‘A horse! A horse!
My kingdom for a Horse!’; (5.4.7) He realizes that the Kingdom as
he had gained it wasn’t worth much than a horse. If he had
gained the crown through more legitimate means, the Kingdom would
be worth more.
Shakespeare’s depiction of Richard III’s rise and fall from
the throne clearly show that Richard’s claim to the throne is
more solid than his brothers. Yet, taking a closer look reveals
that Richard’s claim is illegitimate also. His illegitimacy is
not bound by bastardliness but by the qualities he possesses.
1) Shakespeare, William. Richard III. In The Norton Shakespeare.
Edited by Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 1997.